• Jonathan Bloom writes about why we waste food, why it matters and what we can do about it. This is his blog.

Student Input

I recently spoke to an engaged food studies class at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC). The course, known as Eats 101, is an honors seminar on food and culture in the program in Food, Agriculture and Sustainable Development.

After talking about food waste for a bit, I asked the students for their ideas on reducing waste. Since their answers were so sharp and this was at a public university, I thought it only fair to share their ideas. Here are some highlights, organized by subject area and without editorial comment from yours truly.

Farm

  • Grow less
  • Form better relationships with more people to sell directly to them
  • Create a local need database to link farmers with the needy. (This sort of exists with Ample Harvest)
  • Rebuff Farm Lobby so US Ag policy doesn’t only focus on commodity crops
  • Improve irrigation technology (minimizing the impact of food waste)

Supermarket

  • Avoid visible “sell-by” dates to minimize confusion with “use-by” dates.
  • Reduced prices for imperfect goods and items near their “sell-by” date
  • Institute a reward system for buying these goods
  • Move away from the idea that a store can never run out of anything
  • Cut down on choices/# of items

Restaurant

  • Serve fewer menu items and aim to use similar foods in apps and mains
  • Be seasonal and local (to avoid shipment and kitchen shelf loss)
  • Offer choice of small, medium and large portions
  • Don’t be afraid to run out of food–it seems more exclusive!
  • Market food waste reduction efforts
  • Give discount for bringing own leftover container

Household

  • Plan meals ahead and make a shopping list
  • Use the entire animal, whenever possible
  • Hold neighborhood leftover potlucks–other people aren’t sick of your leftovers!
  • Create neighborhood listserv for sharing excess food/ingredients
  • Write a recipe book for creative reuse of foods
  • Redistribute on the run–make two sandwiches in the morning and give one to someone in need.
April 2, 2012 | Posted in College | Comments closed

Friday Buffet

Big news from NYT’s Green Blog: An international report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change addresses food waste as one of its seven recommendations:

Reduce loss and waste in food systems, targeting infrastructure, farming practices,
processing, distribution and household habit

— —

Every so often I see reports on food waste-to-energy installations like the Muckbuster (great name!). Could somebody just come out with the Mr. Fusion trash-powered car already?

— —

Michigan State may not be in the Final Four, but they’re conducting a waste audit

March 30, 2012 | Posted in General | Comments closed

Beautiful Decay

Rotting food still lifes, anyone? For those so inclined, Austrian photographer Klaus Pichler has created that very thing with his latest project, One Third.

The one third refers to the amount of food worldwide that isn’t consumed, according to the FAO.  Pichler decided to point attention to the global issue of food waste by showing food being…wasted.

The series shows food in various forms of decay. In a way, the images visually stunning. Yet the portrayal of waste–given the actual squandering on display–can be hard to view.

Some of the photographs are nauseating. And others are downright spooky. But, on the whole, they do make us think.

March 28, 2012 | Posted in Food Safety, International | Comments closed

Bi Into This Challenge

With Earth Day fast approaching, the good people at Bi-Rite Market have issued a challenge. A Food Waste Challenge.

Here’s how it works: Leave a comment on the Bi-Rite blog post on the food that you or your community often wastes. Then, the San Fran retailer will identify foods that are often wasted.

Bi-Rite will then strive to help people trim waste of these “target foods” by distributing recipes–in store and hopefully online–for using these foods up. It’s a neat example of a grocer helping its customers curb waste.

So now’s your chance: Tell the gastronomic gurus at Bi-Rite what you have a hard time using up and they’ll provide some handy ideas.

HT: I heard about the challenge from this handy Kitchn post on the topic, which features it’s own useful top 5 list on using up food often discarded.

March 26, 2012 | Posted in Household, Supermarket | Comments closed

UNusual Week

I just spent three days at the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, where I met people from all corners of the globe and talked trash (or food waste) with them.

I was at FAO to collaborate with researchers in an ongoing project to create a global food waste footprint. As you might imagine, cataloguing all the ways food waste impacts our environment won’t be easy. There are the familiar impacts like energy use and methane creation, but also some less discussed ones like biodiversity and water impacts.

The main reason for the trip was a series of meetings to hash out how to calculate the actual food waste footprint. The research team met with FAO researchers in various fields in an effort to consider food waste from every angle. I was there partly to help think through these questions, but also as the person who will be involved in future writings for this project.

Some interesting questions arose:

-Should the resources used to create packaging of food ultimately wasted be included?

-Can we capture the small amount of positive end-of-life outcomes for waste like food recovery, composting and anaerobic digestion?

-What do we do when there isn’t available data for a certain crop or country?

-What do we even call this stuff? To be inclusive of all food not consumed, there’s food waste and food loss. Is there a term for both? Can we use them synonymously? Or do we have to use the unwieldy food loss/waste every turn?

In the coming months, we’ll create answers for these questions and work toward a finished product so that one of these days policy makers, policy wonks, journalists and all in between will be able to say: Food waste’s impact is THIS big!

March 23, 2012 | Posted in Energy, Environment, Personal | Comments closed

Public Service Announcement

Just a quick reminder, folks: You can trim the mold off cheese! I highly recommend it, especially for a variety as delicious as Dill Havarti.

Before.

After. (Mmm...cheese)

March 19, 2012 | Posted in Food Safety, Household, Personal | Comments closed

Friday Buffet

While the UK leads the way in waste reduction, they lag in food recovery. A certain Member of Parliament is out to change that. Kerry McCarthy hopes to introduce legislation requiring supermarkets to donate surplus food, rewarding other businesses for donating food and establishing a US-style Good Samaritan Act.

And it being 2012, here’s the text of McCarthy’s speech to Parliament on her blog.

— —

I found this piece pretty comprehensive: Clean Your Plate, Save the Planet.

— —

Bread is the most commonly wasted food in Britain, according to the BBC. What’s America’s most wasted food? This study didn’t look at bread, but of veggies, fruit and meat, mustard greens are the most squandered supermarket food, with a scandalous 66 percent wasted. Even worse news–veal is the most wasted meat. Sad.

— —

Finally, I’ll be headed to Rome next week to do some consulting work with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. I’ll try to keep up a regular post schedule, but no promises…

March 16, 2012 | Posted in Friday Buffet, International, Personal, Supermarket | Comments closed

You’ve Been Slimed!

I’ve got slime on the mind. Not that old Nickelodeon show slime or the green ectoplasm stuff from Ghostbusters, but pink slime.

The meat industry, in their zeal to be as efficient as possible, are now selling Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings, or BLBT, in supermarkets as ground beef. Apparently, this Play-Doh-like substance is in 70% of conventional ground beef.

However, the substance, critics said, is more like gelatin than meat, and before Beef Products Inc. found a way to use it by disinfecting the trimmings with ammonia it was sold only to dog food or cooking oil suppliers.

Now, I’m all for finding uses for everything. But, as my new pal Will Harris of White Oak Pastures told me, feeding this byproduct to people may be too high a use for it. Perhaps only dog food should be “slimed.” At the very least, I’d say labeling is a solid idea.

It certainly doesn’t put me in the mood to make burgers. And, it also gives new meaning to that old question: Where’s the beef?

— —

Congrats to last week’s book giveaway winner, Megan!

March 13, 2012 | Posted in General | Comments closed

Friday Buffet

Don’t forget to enter the drawing for the new book White Bread by commenting here on your favorite use for stale bread.

— —

Good on ya, mate! Some green-minded Kiwis are pushing their city to ban food waste from the waste stream.

— —

Denver has a new composting facility. Always a good thing.

— —

Seriously? A culinary use for banana skins?! Well done, Shane.

— —

Saturday morning, I’ll be in Santa Barbara, speaking at Edible Institute. See you there?

March 9, 2012 | Posted in Composting, Personal, Restaurant, Waste Stream | Comments closed

Guest Post: In Defense of Stale Bread

Aaron Bobrow-Strain is the author of White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf (Beacon Press, 2012). His writings have also appeared in Gastronomica and The Believer. Here is his impassioned ode to stale bread:

In July 1913, The New York Times announced a Dutch invention—“exceedingly complex and scientific”—that would keep bread fresh “for an indefinite period.” Essentially a glorified ice chest, this was one of many early twentieth-century innovations that promised to banish stale bread forever.

By 1913, industry had begun to tame the unruly, biological nature of dough to the relentless pace of assembly line production. Consumers leaned breathlessly toward a future of bountiful cheap food, leisure, and social harmony made possible by industrial bread. Each slice of modern bread was an edible utopia.

Only one unacceptable reminder of bread’s natural life remained—one tiny realm of imperfection unconquered by science: even the most modern bread drifted inexorably toward entropy.

One hundred years later, the application of chemistry and engineering to bread baking has still not triumphed over staleness. Contrary to popular urban myth, even Wonder Bread decays. And I, for one, am glad.

What would we do without stale bread? How would we make the best French toast, top soups and salads with croutons, thicken sauces, or feed the pigeons?

I just wrote a book about America’s complicated love-hate relationship with industrial food, told through the story of our most iconic industrial food: super-soft sliced white bread. I’m interested in why past efforts to change Americans’ industrial diet have succeeded and failed (mostly failed), and what present-day food reformers can do better. Meanwhile, we’re going to have a lot of stale bread sitting around. Don’t just throw it out.

Here are two of my favorite uses for stale bread, drawn from the Mediterranean world, where salvaging old loaves is an art:

For slightly stale European artisan bread, make a Spanish bocadillo. Drizzle olive oil over two slices, of bread grill them in a hot pan, and then rub the crispy exterior with raw garlic. Sprinkle on a little salt and lemon juice. Then use the grilled bread as the base for a Spanish sandwich. My favorite contains garlicky braised kale, good sheep cheese, and a fried egg.

For really stale European artisan bread, try Italian ribollita. This is a use-up-what-you-have-around stew from Tuscany. Its vegetable ingredients vary depending on what you find at the bottom of your refrigerator—but it always includes cannellini beans and hunks of stale bread. “Ribollita” means “re-boiled” and refers to the process of softening stale bread in the stew. For best results, add the bread to the stew early enough to allow it to soak up lots of rich liquid, but late enough that it doesn’t dissolve completely. Recipes for ribollita can be found in many places. I adapted mine a long time ago from The Rose Pistola Cookbook.

P.S. Around the turn of the last century both Albert Edward Prince of Wales and John D. Rockefeller swore that a diet of stale bread could cure dyspepsia. Use your stale bread and you may never need to chew another Tums!

Editor’s Note: For a chance to win a copy of White Bread, comment below about your preferred use for stale bread. Entries taken until Friday at 5pm.

March 8, 2012 | Posted in Guest Posts, Household | Comments closed
  • Buy the Book

    CBA Winner Badge